After finishing our grueling walk across Ninety Mile Beach, we finally enter the real wilderness of New Zealand’s Northland Forests.
The last four days were full of ups and downs but we had a fun time through it all:
DAY 5 – Ahipara to Raetea Forest
Tom and I woke up at the holiday park in Ahipara and packed up our tents. I had slept okay but Tom had been dying in the heat all night. His sunburn probably didn’t help. We set off down the road into town, stopping at a local dairy (convenience store) where I had a bacon and egg pie for breakfast. Kiwis like their pies, as in mince pies (ground beef) and things, similar to a chicken pot pie. Tom had an ice cream bar.
As we rounded a corner we came across a cafe that had real breakfast food! Just our luck. Tom sat down and had a proper Kiwi breakfast of eggs benny (Benedict) and I had a smoothie; my hiker hunger hasn’t kicked in yet. We had only walked a kilometer and weren’t deserving of two breaks already but oh well. An older, Scottish hiker, Paul, joined us. He had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and was a good hiker. He had been like an energizer bunny on Ninety Mile Beach!
At last we continued on for a day of road walking. The TA used to take hikers through the Herekino Forest but there is a disease attacking certain trees in New Zealand so they closed the forest to prevent the spread. Therefore, the trail routes around the forest on highway roads. It wasn’t quite as hard as the beach walking but the road walking proved tedious.
After 14km we arrived in the town of Kaitaia. I know many hikers planned to stay there for the night but it was too early to stop. I had a Subway sandwich and we needed to resupply. The main grocery store was over a mile down the road so I went to a tiny dairy and bought ramen noodles and a block of cheese. I hoped I had enough to get me through until the next town. I had really hoped for a better grocery to resupply but was too lazy to walk extra miles for food.
Back on the road the sun made it hot! There was a 5km section of busy highway that the guide recommended hitchhiking through. Tom and I hiked onward. It wasn’t so dangerous if we stayed alert. Earlier in the day I had witnessed a Swedish hiker walking next to Tom conversing, right in the middle of the road! It was extremely dangerous and he seemed oblivious that he was putting himself at risk.
Since Kaitaia, we were the only hikers we saw for the rest of the day. It was a boring slog on hard asphalt but the view was alright: lots of farmland and rolling hills with a decent amount of trees. But there was no shade for us and the sun dehydrated me. There were no water sources on the road save for nasty drainage ditches.
The road walking took us down dirt roads and into more rural farmland. I was really worried about water as I hadn’t even drank two liters and it was so hot. The guidebook was very vague about how far the next campsite was, though it said there was water. As we stopped for a break around 5pm, Paul came trotting up. We were shocked to see another hiker had caught up with us.
We hiked the last few kilometers together as the dirt road began climbing up a hill. At last we were entering the wilderness and eventually reached a campsite nestled high in the hills.
Exhausted we set up camp alongside another hiker, Kevin, also from Scotland. I was surrounded by Brits! I rehydrated and treated myself to the extra Subway sandwich I packed out (total boss move, feel free to use it)! Just as the sun set, the Swedish hiker who should have gotten hit by a car, and a German, showed up. I’m not sure if any of the hikers from our first four days will be seen again from here on out.
Overall it was an exhausting day but we did it. Our trail legs are slowly forming. I have no major blisters and Tom’s seem to be healing. I can feel a toenail rubbing and I expect that to fall off within the month. But we seem to be coming along just fine!
Day’s Distance: 35.5km (22.1mi)
Total Distance: 136.5km (84.8mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,860.5km
DAY 6 – Raetea Forest
It sprinkled rain in the morning just barely. We got on the trail and set off up into the woods. These were the first real woods we’d been in since starting the trail. Gone were the flat beaches and roads. It was exciting for a moment. And then it wasn’t.
The climb was steep, straight up the mountainside. We were hiking through the Raetea Forest up to the ridge line. It was a grueling climb with minimal views.
My feet were holding up well and we were plodding along. Tom was feeling under the weather and I hoped he wasn’t getting sick. I listened to the podcast Dolly Parton’s America to pass the time; I do recommend it!
We took many short breaks. The trail was tough and muddy. Though it never really broke out in rain as forecast, it was misty and humid. Our pace was slower than anticipated. A way ahead there was a dairy store we could stop at; this was our goal. Just as we began descending from the forest, an American hiker, John, came up behind us. I had talked with John on Instagram before the hike began and now we had the chance to hike together.
The three of us entered a cow pasture that led us down to the road. We passed some friendly horses as well as a scattering of horse bones. How eerie. We were so grateful for the road as the forest terrain had been exhausting. However, after an hour on the road our feet were aching.
At 5pm we reached the dairy where we ordered burgers and fries. It was our treat for the day before we planned to hike on. But now it was so late in the day and it was beginning to rain. The next camp was 12km away and Tom said he couldn’t make it that far. So we had to find a place in the woods to camp but I had doubts.
The owner of the dairy told us they let hikers use the room next door by donation. We took a look and Tom decided to stay. Mind you, this room (we named it “the nest”) was actually the remains of a building that had caught fire and there were holes in the ceiling, no electricity, and no water. The latter became a problem when the dairy refused to offer water and then closed for the day. We had to ask a perturbed homeowner across the street for water. But we had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies as it rained all night. We were slumming it.
Day’s Distance: 23.5km (14.6mi)
Total Distance: 160.0km (99.4mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,837km
DAY 7 – Omahuta and Puketi Forests
What a day this became. I’m trying to gather all my thoughts and remember all that happened. We woke up in “The Nest” as we called it. We survived the night and no rodents ate us in our sleep. We got a later start at 8am and were off for some road walking. The first kilometer was fine until we realized we missed our turn by a few hundred meters and had to turn around. Then we started to go down the wrong side road before finally figuring it out. So maybe an extra kilometer of walking to start our morning.
Tom, John, and I continued down a dirt road for a long time. We passed farmland and watched little pigs running around. We had a big climb but it was on the road so it wasn’t that bad. Not like the previous day that nearly killed us.
Near the top we found some nice track through the Omahuta Forest and then crossed a tranquil river that tempted us for a swim.
Next we walked through the Kauri Die-Back cleaning station to clean our shoes off. This is to protect us tracking in anything that could spread the disease that’s killing the Kauri trees.
Eventually we had a steep and muddy decent down a hill before we crossed a stream. And then we crossed it again. And again. And then we realized we just follow the stream, zig-zagging our way along its path for several kilometers. It reminded me of when my mate, Kane, and I climbed Tapuae-O-Uenuku and had to cross a river 70 times; so I was a pro this time around.
Our stream led us to the Waipapa River which I nearly swam across before realizing we had to hike downstream to a more suitable crossing. Then things took a turn. We followed the river but this time on the bank. The trail took us along the bank on steep terrain, ups and downs, hanging on to the tiniest piece of trail like a mountain goat.
Tom threw out expletives constantly. At one point he slipped and fell into a bush as I watched his water bottle fall out of his pack and roll into a deep trench. He was not happy to retrieve that. It was a rough section of trail and it was testing us. To make things worse, possum traps were set out every 50m or so and we saw and smelt many a dead possum.
At last we left the river and began climbing. Luckily there were some new-looking steps that had been built and we climbed up…and up. It was a stairmaster challenge as we climbed back up into the mountains.
After countless steps, we emerged on top of a ridge in the Puketi Forest. We followed this track up and down steep bumps along the ridge. We were getting exhausted. Many times we paused to contemplate how we should proceed. In the end we decided to push on to the campsite which was more than an hour away. We wouldn’t make it there before dark. Because of the Kauri die-back, we weren’t allowed to stealth camp in the forest.
Soon we were aching and moaning about how sore and exhausted we were. Just when we thought the trail had broken us, the track turned into a dirt road. We knew we could make better time on this terrain. Into twilight we hiked, weary and beaten down. Tom and John remarked how the Appalachian Trail was nowhere near this difficult the first week.
In the darkness we walked into the Puketi Forest Camp around 9pm. We couldn’t see much so we just pitched our tents where it seemed appropriate. A cold shower was available and I risked a brisk rinse off. A sprinkling of rain began and I cooked dehydrated spaghetti in my tent for dinner. I also ate some cheese and tortillas as well as chocolate. I guzzled water since I hardly drink during the day. I maybe drank two liters while hiking so I am probably chronically dehydrated.
This was Tom and my biggest day on the TA so far. The best thing about our big push was that now we are likely to arrive in the town of Kerikeri for laundry and a good rest tomorrow. We have now been on the trail for one week officially and our big day put us back on schedule for finishing the trail by February 8th (when Tom needs to leave to start a new job). I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose one or two toenails in the coming weeks. This happened on the AT as well. But so far I don’t have any blisters, despite my feet being in wet socks the entire afternoon after our river walk.
Day’s Distance: 37km (23mi)
Total Distance: 197km (122.4mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,800km
DAY 8 – Puketi Forest to Kerikeri
The morning was wet with sprinkles occasionally. My tent was soaked as I packed it up. I was excited at the prospect of town and an easy day. The guide made it seem like it was mostly road walking and all downhill.
John was still sleeping so we headed out on our own. The rain sprinkles stopped as we walked the road out of the Puketi Forest and into farmland. We nearly missed the trail as it veered off the road into sheep pasture (the trail isn’t always marked).
We traipsed across several fields stepping around piles of manure. We left the sheep behind and said hello to some cows.
And then back to the road we went for well over ten kilometers. Our feet ached. The road is the worst. Needless to say it was a tedious march.
At last we reached more urban areas (by New Zealand standards) and began following a river on soft, grassy ground. It was a nice path through parks and woods. We were close to town.
Finally we reached Rainbow Falls, a 27m (88ft) waterfall. It was a beautiful sight, though we winced through the pain in our feet.
We had reached Kerikeri and left the trail for an extra kilometer walk into the town center. We hobbled into Subway for lunch before checking into a hotel; we deserved a rest. Dinner became Dominos pizza. It was amazing to have a hot shower and a warm bed!
Day’s Distance: 24km (14.9mi)
Total Distance: 221km (137.4mi)
Distance Remaining: 2,776km
Tom and I were caught screaming this tune in the middle of the woods:
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